By René Moortgat
Despite a superior set of features, Ryerson is hesitant to adopt the Google Apps for Education online suite.
Due to the American Patriot Act, which could theoretically expose private information held in Google servers to the American government, Ryerson won’t use the service for campus email and calendaring.
Google Apps Education Edition is free for accredited post-secondary institutions, offering seven-gigabyte email accounts that can be used by faculty and students.
The service also allows universities to retain their own custom domain names.
“Instead of logging in through Gmail to get your mail account there would be a Ryerson branded version of Gmail, with an @ryerson address,” said Brian Lesser, assistant director of Ryerson’s computing and communication services.
Faculty and student email is currently powered by software from Sun Microsystems and offers 100 megabyte inboxes for undergraduate students.
“The webmail software and interface from Sun is somewhat out of date,” said Lesser, who added that inbox capacity and attachment size limits are “lower than they should be.”
Google Apps also offers the option to sync calendars between faculty and students, while the current email service for Ryerson “does not have a calendaring and scheduling piece to it,” said Lesser.
Some faculty members at Ryerson University have adopted the Google calendar and apps to help schedule meetings with students.
“I have saved 50 per cent of the time I would usually have spent trying to arrange a meeting with other people,” said Michael Kolios, associate professor at the department of physics, about his adoption of Google calendars in a company case study.
“We’re nowhere close to what Google offers at all,” said Lesser.
If the Google solution was adopted, all information on Ryerson email accounts and calendars would be stored and hosted on Google servers in the United States. This is where the problem for Ryerson adoption of Google Apps lies.
Google is an American company and all its data is stored on American servers. As a result it is subject to the Patriot Act of 2001, which grants the United States government access to confidential information out of any service in the country without prior notification.
“Under Canadian law, including the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, universities have an obligation to secure records and keep them private,” said Lesser.
“This and the Patriot Act are in contradiction. So whatever temptation we might have to look at Google Apps for Education would be tempered by the fact that the Patriot Act instituted doesn’t match well with Canadian law and our obligations to the Ryerson population,” he said.
Even though Google Apps will not be used in the near future by Ryerson, an upgrade to the current user interface of the university’s webmail is imminent.
“There’s a better client available from Sun Microsystems that’s much easier to use, more like Gmail and it’s just a matter of time before we find the right window of time and resources to [implement] that,” said Lesser.